NY Times: Intelligence Officials Say Iran Has “Hundreds” of Underground Tunnels and Bunkers

As negotiations continue between the Western powers and Iran over the country’s illegal nuclear program, a front page article in The New York Times today documented the difficulty the West would have in fashioning an agreement that would account for Iran’s hidden nuclear research.

Unstated is the fear of a more problematic issue, referred to as “sneakout.” That describes the risk of a bomb being produced at an undetected facility deep in the Iranian mountains, or built from fuel and components obtained from one of the few trading partners happy to do business with Tehran, like North Korea. …

The American officials are highly attuned to the findings of a once-classified 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that Iran ended its headlong race for a bomb in late 2003. But it also concluded that smaller-scale activity continued, and warned that “Iran probably would use covert facilities — rather than its declared nuclear sites — for the production of highly enriched uranium for a weapon.”

According the Times, a number of factors support the suspicion that Iran possesses covert facilities. The discovery of the secret Fordow enrichment facility in 2009 served as a historical lesson that Iran has developed a covert nuclear infrastructure. The article also mentions the assessment of intelligence officials who “say hundreds, perhaps thousands, of underground bunkers and large tunnels now honeycomb the nation.”

The Times reports that in order to address the suspicions that Iran has hidden nuclear facilities adequately, inspectors would have to be “the right to roam the nation widely,” but that it is unlikely that Iran would agree to such invasive inspections.

Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, warned at a Congressional hearing last week that Iran would “build the fissile material for a weapon, the HEU [highly enriched uranium], at a site about which we have no knowledge.”

A report yesterday from Vienna, where negotiations are being held, indicated that the West will “likely stop short of demanding full disclosure of any secret weapon work by Tehran.”

[Photo: Nuclear Threat Initiative / YouTube ]